Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bethlehem Records - The Verse Music Group Reissues

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Bethlehem Records’ legacy is a lengthy discography that freshly and ambitiously captures and preserves an era of truly amazing music, including West Coast Cool Jazz and East Coast Bop.
Founded in 1953  by Gus Wildi, Bethlehem was both a record company and label.

As explained by Mark Gardner in The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz [Barry Kernfeld, ed.. pp. 105-106], “the company … quickly established offices in New York and Hollywood. More than 40 albums (the first of which was by Chris Connor) were issued on a series of 10-inch discs before Bethlehem changed to a 12-inch format in 1955.

Thereafter the company was consistently successful for several years, creating a large catalogue (of variable quality) that included the work of such leaders as Dexter Gordon, Frank Rosolino, Charlie Mariano, Duke Ellington, Oscar Pettiford, Art Blakey, Booker Ervin, Zoot Sims, Herbie Nichols, Charles Mingus, Conte Candoli, and Claude Williamson. Contracts were also signed with several singers, among them Connor, Johnny Hartman, Carmen McRae (who made her first recording for the company), and Mel Torme.

Howard McGhee made three LPs for the label; also included in the catalogue were albums by Stu Williamson, Booker Little, and Ruby Braff. At its peak in the late 1950s Bethlehem offered a representative cross-section of the styles then contemporary on both the East and West coasts, as well as more mainstream material by Jack Teagarden, Charlie Shavers, and Pete Brown.

While the quality of the company's 10-inch records was good, that of the 12-inch discs was frequently poor. Sessions were produced variously by Creed Taylor and Teddy Charles, among others, and several during the early 1960s were engineered by Peter Ind at his own studio in New York.

Around this time, however, Bethlehem was bought by King, and jazz recording all but ceased. Much of the catalogue has nevertheless remained available into the 1980s, and is frequently reissued under arrangements with other companies, notably (in the 1980s) Affinity in England. (M. Ruppli and B. Daniels: The King Labels: a Discography (Westport, CT, and London, 1985) [incl. complete listing of Bethlehem recordings]).”

According to Michael Bloom Media Relations, on October 29, 2013, the Verse Music Group, based in New York City, with distribution via Naxos of America, Inc, began a new reissue of “the iconic Jazz catalogue” with remastered releases of the following Bethlehem recordings, all of which are available digitally and as CD’s and 12” LP’s.

Down Home: The Great Zoot Sims

“Tenor saxophonist "Zoot" Sims grew up during both the Swing era and the early years of Bop where he absorbed the basic roots of Jazz. His playing contains the heartbeat that represents all of the Jazz periods making "Down Home" an enjoyable and consistently swinging set. Also featured on this album is pianist Dave McKenna, bassist George Tucker and drummer Dannie Richmond.”

You can sample the music via this streaming link.

Motor City Scene

“Hailing from the Detroit Jazz scene, trumpeter Donald Byrd & baritonist Pepper Adams join forces with guitarist Kenny Burrell, pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Louis Hayes (aka "Hey" Lewis) to form the all-star sextet heard on Motor City Scene (also released as Stardust). The album opens with Stardust, or "music to get lost in" as described by All About Jazz. Adams takes the lead on Phi/son followed by Chambers and Hayes up-tempo version of Trio. Libeccio reflects a contrast of talent from the entire sextet, ending on a high note with their hard-swinging rendition of Bitty Ditty.”

You can sample the music via this streaming link.

The Songs of Bobby Troop

Bobby Troup wore many hats as a composer, performer, singer/songwriter, and actor that has made serveral contributions to both Jazz music and the entertainment industry as a whole. The Songs Of Bobby Troup was a mid-50's studio session that showcases pianist Bobby Troup and his smooth singing style vocals, valve trombonist Bob Enevoldsen, guitarist Howard Roberts, bassist Red Mitchell and drummer Don Heath. The album includes an assortment of rarities that opens with the happy-go-lucky "Cuckoo In The Clock" in addtion to beautiful instrumental arrangements of "Laura/3 and "Jeepers Creepers," concluding on a high note with "I'm With You."

You can sample the music via this streaming link.

To give you an overview of the range of Bethlehem artists yet to come on The Verse Group reissues, I’ve put together this video montage of the original album covers as set to Zoot Sims performing Jive at Five from Down Home: The Great Zoot Sims.

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